Waiting: it is perhaps one of the things we like the least but do the most. Each day, we find ourselves forced to pause while someone or something completes a task. Perhaps we find it frustrating because we are used to going through life at our own pace and find the imposition of a different pace to be both uncomfortable and irritating. Or maybe it is because we feel that, as we are waiting, we are being cheated out of our time because we don’t have control over how long we must wait.
As frustrating as we find waiting to be in situations we do not think of as spiritual, it is no surprise that we are similarly irked when we find ourselves forced to wait in our Christian walk. This may take shape as hitting a spiritual plateau in which we do not feel the same sense of growth that we used to. We may also encounter waiting as a sense of being distant from God. Nonetheless, from this handful of examples, we can see that waiting is an inseparable part of our spiritual journey. It is part of the undulating road that we walk as we seek to draw closer to God.
Waiting, itself, is no novelty in Christianity: after Christ’s ascension, the disciples were told to wait until they had received the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49), the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom had to wait until morning for the ditches that had been dug to fill with water (2 Kings 3:20), and we live our lives in anticipation of eternity, just to name a few examples. Though we are forgiven the moment we repent and turn to Christ, Christianity is not of religion of instant gratification; it is a religion that is founded on relationship, and sometimes that means waiting and remaining faithful. One of the most poignant examples of waiting on God is the story of Abraham being called out of his homeland by God (Genesis 12:1-9). Abraham (then called Abram) was told to pack up, leave his home, and go to a land that God would show him. In many ways, Abraham was being asked to go and wait. It is one thing to wait while we are secure in the midst of familiar surroundings and quite another to wait while outside of our comfort zone. Such circumstances bring to mind the question of exactly how we wait: what do we do when we are waiting on God?
One way we may go about waiting on God is to push our spiritual life to the side. There doesn’t seem to be much going on there, so why attend to it? Surely our time is better spent on something else at the moment. While such a mentality can assist us in becoming better multitaskers, it can also be a detriment to our spiritual growth. Another way that we might approach waiting is to very simply refuse to do it and give up on our spiritual walk altogether. After all, is it really worth the time and hassle if we’re just going to have to wait? This, too, is spiritually unhealthy and cause for us to reconsider where we stand with God (Matthew 13:20-21).
So what are we to do when waiting on God? Above all else, we must remain faithful. This means continuing to be diligent in our daily lives: maintaining our times of devotion and prayer and continuing to live our lives according to Christ’s example. Our obedience to God and acts of devotion are responses to God’s love for us (1 John 4:17-5:5). As such, they are not dependent upon immediate feedback because they are based on something far grander in scale. Love is more than a feeling: it is obedience, commitment, and selflessness, among other things. When we love someone, our attitudes and actions towards them ultimately proceed not from temporary feelings (though these may certainly have influence), but from deeper within our hearts, from a deep-seated desire for them to be truly happy. Love does not consist solely in doting and being doted upon, but also of making hard choices for the betterment of the other party. This is why, for example, parents discipline their children: it is not pleasant for any involved, but that discipline teaches the children valuable lessons and is instrumental in their continued healthy development. When we are waiting on God, we continue to pursue Him and remain faithful, not because it is particularly pleasant at the time or we are trying to earn His love, but because He loves us and we love Him. Perhaps we wish the answer was more complicated than that, but that is the heart of the matter. Our response to God’s love persists even when we are not filled with the warm glow of affirmation.
It would be remiss to overlook why God sometimes makes us wait. As stated earlier, when we love someone, we seek for them to be truly happy. As God works in us to grow and shape us, sometimes He steps back to allow us to stand on our own. It is not unlike a child learning to feed itself. There comes a point when it must learn to convey food to its mouth on its own. Even though the parents are no longer spoon-feeding it, they don’t love it any less; as a matter of fact, it is because they love it that they put it through the ordeal in the first place. Likewise, when God asks us to wait on Him, it is because He is teaching us to feed ourselves: to take what He has given us and be nurtured by it, rather than being spoon-fed. It helps us to grow and mature spiritually.
When we are waiting on God, despite appearances, we are going through an important process of spiritual maturation. We learn to show love when we don’t necessarily feel love as we are shaped into the image and likeness of Him who gave the fullest measure of love for those who hated and reviled Him. Our growth while waiting is not restricted to times when we are waiting on God: when we wait on others, we can still share the love of God with how we wait. Are we patient? Are we kind? Do we give grace as we have received grace? As the seed lies seemingly inert in the ground before growing into a fruit-bearing plant, so the times when our spiritual life seems inert eventually grow and bear spiritual fruit.